Tristan Dunning, The University of Queensland and Martin Kear, University of SydneyWeeks of tensions between Palestinian protesters and Israeli security forces in East Jerusalem have boiled over in recent days, unleashing some of the worst violence between Israel and the Palestinians in years.
Israeli airstrikes in Gaza have left 30 Palestinians dead, including ten children, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promising not to ease up anytime soon. Palestinians militants, meanwhile, have launched hundreds of missiles into Israel, killing three people.
Ostensibly, the rocket launches by Hamas were a response to Israeli police storming the al-Aqsa mosque compound in East Jerusalem on Laylat al-Qadr, the Night of Power, one of the holiest nights of the year for Muslims. The incident injured hundreds over the weekend.
Hamas then issued an ultimatum demanding Israeli forces withdraw from the compound — the third holiest site in Islam, part of which comprises the Wailing Wall — by a specific deadline. When Israel refused, Hamas’s military wing followed through on its threat by firing rockets toward Jerusalem, forcing Israeli lawmakers to flee parliament.
Beyond the mosque confrontation, though, there are broader historical and political factors at work.
Monday’s airstrikes fell on Jerusalem Day, when Israeli Jews celebrate the “reunification” of Jerusalem following the Six Day War of 1967. As the ongoing unrest demonstrates, the city is far from unified.
Adding to the tensions, thousands of Jewish ultra-nationalists had planned to march through Palestinian-dominated East Jerusalem on Jerusalem Day as a demonstration of Jewish sovereignty over the entire city.
Israeli police changed the route at the last moment, partly due to the increasingly violent clashes between security forces and Palestinian demonstrators during Ramadan.
There were also concerns of unrest if the Israeli Supreme Court handed down its decision on whether four Palestinian families should be evicted from their homes in the Shiekh Jarrah neighbourhood of East Jerusalem, to be replaced by Jewish settlers. This is the culmination of a decades-long legal battle dismissed as “a real estate dispute” by Israeli officials.
This case is emblematic of the systematic appropriation of Palestinian homes and land in East Jerusalem since 1967. The seizure of Palestinian property is so common here, an Israeli settler was captured on video recently telling a Palestinian,
If I don’t steal your home, someone else will steal it.
The Biden administration has also said it is “deeply concerned” about the potential evictions, while urging leaders across the spectrum to “denounce all violent acts”.
Decades of dispossession
Israeli settlement building and expansion, especially in and around East Jerusalem, is a deliberate strategy. This is not only being done to appropriate Palestinian land, but to alter the demographics of the area and prevent the establishment of a sovereign Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital.
Israel exclusively claims Jerusalem – home of the ancient Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism – as its eternal undivided capital.
The dispossession of Palestinians in East Jerusalem and elsewhere in the West Bank is not new. Indeed, the expulsion of Palestinians in the areas now largely recognised as the official borders of the self-defined Jewish state of Israel was required to establish a Jewish majority.
On May 14, 1948, Zionist leaders unilaterally declared the independence of the state of Israel, sparking the first Arab-Israeli War. During the war, over 400 Palestinian villages and towns were depopulated and obliterated to make way for modern Jewish towns and cities.
This Saturday marks al-Nakba, or the “Catastrophe”, for Palestinians. It is the day of mourning for the loss of historical Palestine and the expulsion of over 700,000 Palestinians from their ancestral homeland.
This process has continued throughout East Jerusalem and the West Bank since their occupation in 1967. There are now more than 5 million Palestinian refugees registered with the UN, nearly a third of whom live in refugee camps.
The plight of Palestinian refugees remains a particularly contentious issue for the two sides. A UN General Assembly resolution in 1948 asserted the right of refugees to return to the areas captured by Israel in 1948-49.
And in 1967, a UN Security Council resolution demanded Israeli forces withdraw from territories captured during the Six Day War.
International law and internal brawls
The Israeli annexation of East Jerusalem and its ongoing settler activities in the West Bank contravene international humanitarian law. They are also not recognised by the vast majority of the international community, with the notable exception of the US under the Trump administration.
Yet, Palestinian dispossession continues today with over 600,000 Israeli settlers now living across the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
The continued Israeli occupation of these territories, coupled with the appropriation of Palestinian land, are among the primary causes of conflict between the two sides.
But there are also domestic political factors at play. Hamas is a resistance organisation, which is also responsible for administering the Gaza Strip. Its legitimacy largely rests on its resistance credentials, which means the movement routinely feels obligated to demonstrate its capacity to confront perceived Israeli aggression.
This is in stark contrast to the inaction of the Hamas’ rival party, Fatah, and its leader, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who has remained largely silent in recent weeks despite the loss of Palestinian lives.
Israel’s political system is also in crisis, with no party able to form a stable government after four inconclusive elections in the past two years (and now a fifth potentially in the offing).
With the government in flux, pro-settler parties – namely Naftali Bennett’s New Right Party – have become the kingmakers in the Knesset. Any aspiring government will likely need their backing to form a majority, which requires the support of pro-settler policies.
With all of this in mind, we can expect more violence, regardless of who eventually wins power in Israel. Unless the international community — in particular, the Biden administration — intervenes to find a meaningful solution to the conflict.
Only 40% of students in China who previously intended to study overseas still plan to, while just under 50% of those who had studied overseas plan to return to their study after the borders reopen.
These are results from our unpublished survey of 1,012 students we conducted in China between June 5 and 15. We asked them whether they would continue with their plan to study abroad post COVID-19.
These findings are not surprising. Due to growing tensions between China and the West – even before COVID-19 – middle-class parents in China had become increasingly concerned about the safety of, and possible discrimination against, their children abroad, including in the US and Australia.
The pandemic seems to have accelerated this trend.
What students say about studying in Australia
Of the 1,012 students we surveyed, 404 had registered to study abroad in the next three years (in the US, UK, Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand and Singapore) and 608 had been studying overseas (including in Australia, US, UK, Canada, New Zealand and Japan) before COVID-19 .
In the questionnaire, we presented interviewees with considerations and asked them to nominate which ones would influence their decision about whether to study in Australia after COVID-19, as well as in other countries.
The first group (group A) includes 304 students who had studied in Australia but who were not able to return due to travel restrictions.
Of these, 50% were undergraduates, 42% graduates, 5% doctoral students, and 3% vocational education or high school students.
The second group (group B) includes students who had never studied abroad before but had registered their intention to in the next three years, including in Australia, before COVID-19.
The second group also answered Australia-specific questions.
Not many students in either group considered issues such as more expensive air travel, less freedom in China and online lectures as critical factors influencing their decision to study in Australia.
But the two groups reacted to some factors quite differently. The students who had studied in Australia before considered the following factors as more critical to their decision:
returnees with Australian degrees are not more competitive in China’s job market compared to graduates from top-tier universities in China
life is more convenient, safe and easier at home and I don’t want to go abroad to endure the hardship as a foreign student
improved political stability and economic prospects in China
less of a chance of landing a good job with an Australian degree in China
no need to go abroad if lectures are delivered online.
The group of students who hadn’t yet studied in Australia but planned to, considered the following factors as critical:
media reported cases of Chinese being “discriminated against” or “abused” in Australia
deterioration in Sino-Australia relations
not many outstanding returnees from Australia are visible in the media to represent the success of Australian education
Australian universities lowered the entry standard for foreign students due to COVID-19
Australian degrees are perceived to be less valuable compared to degrees from other English-speaking countries, especially the US and the UK, by HR personnel in China.
What the students said
Not surprisingly, both groups considered the Chinese government’s warnings against visiting, or studying in, Australia important. A decision to study and live abroad is often made by the whole family in China. Official voices weigh significantly in such decisions.
A student who had done some of her master degree in a Melbourne university said:
After the Chinese New Year, Australian borders were closed to Chinese students due to COVID-19. Direct travel was not allowed. So I travelled to Thailand and spent 14 days in a small hotel in Bangkok before I landed in Melbourne. I had to be self-quarantined for 14 days in my rented room.
Then I found all lectures were moved online and the situation of COVID-19 became serious in Melbourne. The PM urged international students to go home. My parents were so worried. They paid for an over-priced air ticket and a quarantine-hotel in Shanghai for me for 14 days before I could go back to my hometown.
When the [Chinese] government announced the travel and study warnings, I couldn’t convince my parents that things aren’t that bad in Australia. They listened to the government and believed the ‘official voices’ rather than their own daughter.
There have been cases (though isolated ones) of Asians or Chinese people being bullied in Australia due to COVID-19. Unfortunately, social media in China often distorts such cases and amplifies the (mis)perceptions. And the tensions between China and Australia have enhanced these negative perceptions.
Sending their children abroad was once a privilege for elites with intellectual, economic or political power in China. But this is now quite common among middle-class Chinese families.
Chinese families spend a large amount of money on their children’s education. Better opportunities (either in the host country or on returning home) after study abroad is an underlining reason Chinese families invest in their children.
Australia has attracted many Chinese students in recent decades. But if Chinese students with Australian degrees are less appreciated or less competitive compared to those who study in other countries or in local universities, families will look for other options.
A Chinese student who had been studying at a Sydney university told us:
We are the clients and the degrees are a commodity; we pay for our degrees. What if the commodity loses its value? The clients will surely walk away.
COVID-19 has had a negative impact on the number of Chinese students likely to study in Australia. But the downward trend started way before the pandemic.
Australian universities need to adjust their strategies for a future that will not only deliver value for Chinese students, but also strengthen a positive perception about this value.
The protests that have engulfed American cities in the past week are rooted in decades of frustrations. Racist policing, legal and extra-legal discrimination, exclusion from the major avenues of wealth creation and vicious stereotyping have long histories and endure today.
African Americans have protested against these injustices going back as far as the post-Civil War days in the 1870s. Throughout the 20th century, there were significant uprisings in Chicago (1919), New York City’s Harlem neighbourhood (1935), Detroit (1943) and Los Angeles (1943, 1965, 1992).
And in what became known as the “long, hot summer of 1967”, anger in America’s cities boiled over. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 had ended segregation, but not brought equality. Racial injustice at the hands of police remained. Protesters took to the streets in more than 150 cities, leading to violent clashes between black residents and largely white police forces.
White moderates condemned these armed rebellions as the antithesis of the famed nonviolent protests of civil rights activists. But Martin Luther King, Jr., himself, recognised that the success of nonviolence lay in the ever-present threat of violence.
He noted, too, that riots “do not develop out of thin air.”
Policing practices a trigger for unrest
The trigger for African-American uprisings in the US has almost always been acts by police forces, such as the recent death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Sometimes, unrest has broken out when police have refused to act on behalf of black residents. When an African-American teenager drifted into the “white” part of Lake Michigan in Chicago in 1919, for instance, a white man on the banks threw rocks at him and he drowned. A policeman did nothing to stop the assailants, nor did he arrest them.
From the perspective of those targeted and traumatised by police and discriminated against by society at large, property damage and looting were justified.
In the century after slavery ended in 1865, white Americans had established new ways to exploit black people’s labour and keep African Americans impoverished. These methods ranged from legislation governing work contracts and mobility to racist stereotyping.
Such laws and customs were all underpinned by violence, including murder. From the late 1800s until 1950, more than 4,000 African Americans were victims of lynchings. They were so acceptable they were sometimes advertised in the press in advance. These were extra-judicial killings, but often included the police (or they would at least turn a blind eye to the proceedings).
Black Americans who sought better lives in northern cities found racism there, too. White landlords had a captive market in segregated neighbourhoods, such as New York’s Harlem and Chicago’s South Side, which caused them to become increasingly crowded and rundown.
African Americans were often kept out of nicer neighbourhoods in cities nationwide, either through violent acts perpetrated by white residents or even by police officers themselves. The houses of middle-class black Americans in the Birmingham, Alabama, suburb where political activist and philosopher Angela Davis grew up were bombed so often the area was nicknamed “Dynamite Hill”.
Even the presence of black officers in the police forces of northern cities could not alter the fundamentally racist operations of police forces.
The expanding wealth gap
The protests of the 1960s were driven in part by police brutality, but also by the exclusion of African Americans from full civic participation.
Even if African Americans could accumulate the capital to acquire a mortgage, a system of laws known as “redlining” prevented them from purchasing property.
That, in turn, thwarted black families’ efforts to accumulate wealth at the same rate of white families. African Americans lived, therefore, in neighbourhoods that were poorer. Those communities had worse sanitation, no green spaces, grocery stores with high prices and poorly resourced schools.
All the while, it was African Americans who continued to work in low paid domestic and service labour jobs that propped up a booming economy that disproportionately benefited white Americans. It’s no wonder the writer James Baldwin said in 1968,
After all, you’re accusing a captive population who has been robbed of everything of looting. I think [that accusation] is obscene.
The effects of those policies are still in evidence today – and play a significant role in the discrimination and disenfranchisement of many African Americans.
Black families and individuals enjoy a drastically lower median level of wealth than whites or Asian Americans. This is true even among African Americans with high levels of education and high salaries. Generations of discrimination have left their mark as black Americans have been denied the gradual accumulation of largely untaxed wealth in housing and inheritance.
Echoing Baldwin, the comic Trevor Noah observed this week,
If you felt unease watching that Target being looted, try to imagine how it must feel for black Americans when they watch themselves being looted every single day. Police in America are looting black bodies.
The ‘war on crime’ and mass incarcerations
In the wake of the 1967 unrest, federal policies shifted under President Lyndon Johnson from the “War on Poverty” to the “War on Crime”. African Americans were increasingly targeted in the expanding “law and order” and mass incarceration machine.
Today, black Americans, especially men, remain the overwhelming targets for police forces. Young black men are killed by police at a rate of 21 times that of young white men. African American women, too, are vulnerable, as several recent high-profile incidents prove.
African Americans are also more likely to be arrested, charged with crimes, convicted and sentenced than white Americans.
All the while, police have been trained and equipped in ways that have blurred the line between civilian police and military forces. The violence of these police forces is becoming more difficult to justify, hence Slate running an article in the last week with the title “Police Erupt in Nationwide Violence”.
Until then, as civil rights lawyer Sherrilyn Ifill said this week,
if the rule of law is to prevail, then the people have to see some justice. If it always produces a result that is unjust, then how can we tell people to have faith in the justice system.
Indonesia has recently indicated it is considering investigating the killings of hundreds of thousands of people in the 1965 “anti-communist” purge under authoritarian leader Suharto.
If the inquiry goes ahead, it would mark a shift in the government’s long-standing failure to address past atrocities. It is unclear if they will include other acts of brutality alleged to have been committed by the Indonesian regime in the troubled region of West Papua.
According to Amnesty International, at least 100,000 West Papuans have been killed since the Indonesian takeover of West Papua in the 1960s.
While the number of killings peaked in the 1970s, they are rising again due to renewed activism for independence in the territory. In September 2019, as many as 41 people were killed in clashes with security forces and Jihadi-inspired militia.
Clashes between security forces and the West Papua National Liberation Army have escalated since January, which human rights groups say have resulted in at least five deaths. At least two other civilians were killed in another incident.
The latest violence was sparked by racial attacks on Papuan university students in Java last year, which prompted thousands of Papuans to protest against the government. The protests brought renewed media attention to human rights violations in the region and Papuans’ decades-long fight for autonomy.
However, because the international media have been prohibited from entering West Papua, the broader conflict has received relatively little attention from the outside world. (This week’s feature by ABC’s Foreign Correspondent program in Australia was a rare exception.)
New project to map past atrocities
Late last year, we embarked on a project to map the violence that has occurred in West Papua under Indonesian occupation.
This was in part inspired by the massacre mapping project of Indigenous people in Australia by the Guardian and University of Newcastle, and the Public Interest Advocacy Centre’s mapping of violence in Sri Lanka.
Our aim was to bring renewed attention to the protracted crisis in West Papua. We hope that by showing the extent of state-sanctioned violence going back decades, we might encourage the kind of international scrutiny that eventually led to intervention in East Timor.
Will Australia take a stand on West Papua?
The map only documents some of the massacres that have taken place in West Papua since the 1970s, as conditions in the territory make it difficult to accurately record and verify deaths. The challenges include a lack of resources for record-keeping, internal displacement and frequently destroyed properties, and a fear of reporting deaths. Others have disappeared, and their bodies have never been found.
We also encountered a relative dearth of data from the 1990s to 2010s, in part due to few journalists reporting on incidents during this period.
For the purposes of our project, we relied largely on reportage from the Asian Human Rights Commission and the International Coalition for Papua (both of which have strong connections within West Papua), as well as research by the historian Robin Osborne, Papuan rights organisation ELSHAM, Indonesian human rights watchdog TAPOL and a comprehensive report by academics at Yale Law School published in 2004.
Among the most recent attacks is the torture and murders of scores of protesters on Biak Island in 1998, according to a citizens’ tribunal held in Sydney. Some estimates say the death toll may have been as high as 200.
Though far from complete, our mapping project reveals several broad trends.
The majority of massacres have taken place in the West Papuan highlands, the region with the highest ratio of Indigenous to non-Indigenous West Papuans
many killings were committed while Papuans were peacefully protesting for independence from Indonesia
given the numbers of troops posted to West Papua and the types of weapons at their disposal, the government should have had full knowledge of the extent of devastation caused by attacks by security forces and militia groups. (Indonesian security forces are generally known for being out of the government’s control)
in the vast majority of killings, the perpetrators have never been held to account by the government.
The government claims the National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM) is conducting inquiries into some of the more recent incidents, although there are concerns the body doesn’t have sufficient powers and the government has previously been reluctant to accept findings of abuses.
Why has the world stayed silent?
Both Australia and New Zealand have been hesitant about intervening in human rights crises in the region, particularly when Indonesia is involved.
In 2006, Australia signed the Lombok Treaty, which assured Jakarta it would respect the sovereignty of the Indonesian state and not support “separatist movements”.
However, Australia – and the rest of the world – did finally act when it came to the independence referendum in East Timor.
In his memoir, former Prime Minister John Howard mentioned East Timor independence as one of his key achievements. However, in office, he showed very little appetite for supporting East Timor independence and ruffling Indonesia’s feathers.
It was largely the diplomatic intervention at the international level by US President Bill Clinton, alongside the deployment of Australian Federal Police (AFP) working as unarmed civilian police for the UN mission in East Timor, that eventually secured the referendum.
Media coverage played a critical role in persuading the world to take action. In West Papua, the media have not had the same effect.
This is in part due to what the Indonesian security forces learned from East Timor on how to control the media. The Indonesian government has frequently cut internet services in West Papua, enacted a complete ban on foreign journalists and denied requests from the UN Human Rights Commission to investigate human rights violations.
Despite this, mobile phone videos of abuse continue to leak out.
In the absence of extensive media coverage, Papuan pro-democracy advocates and their supporters have been calling for a UN-sanctioned human rights investigation. There is also significant support from human rights defenders in Indonesia for such an inquiry.
As it now has a seat on the UN Human Rights Council, Indonesia should fully support such a move. However, the military retains considerable influence in the country, and holding commanders suspected of human rights abuses to account remains politically difficult.
Given these challenges, what will it take for the world to show enough moral courage to force change in West Papua?
The right way forward is clear. As a member of the UN Human Rights Council, Indonesia needs to put an end to the media ban in West Papuan, support an independent UN investigation and hold accountable those responsible within the government for violent acts.
If Indonesia does not take this course of action, then diplomatic pressure from the world will be required.
Camellia Webb-Gannon, Lecturer, University of Wollongong; Jaime Swift, DPhil (PhD) candidate, University of Oxford; Michael Westaway, Australian Research Council Future Fellow, Archaeology, School of Social Science, The University of Queensland, and Nathan Wright, Research Fellow, The University of Queensland
It has been more than two years since “clearance operations” by Myanmar’s security forces, the Tatmadaw, forced more than 700,000 Rohingya across the border to neighbouring Bangladesh.
During this time, the UN Security Council has remained silent on the plight of Rohingya, with China and Russia working to keep it off the council’s agenda.
But at the UN General Assembly last month, The Gambia announced it would take the Myanmar government to the International Court of Justice for the genocide of the Rohingya.
Vice-President Isatou Touray said The Gambia is:
a small country with a big voice on matters of human rights on the continent and beyond. […] The Gambia is ready to lead the concerted efforts for taking the Rohingya issue to the International Court of Justice on behalf of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and we are calling on all stakeholders to support this process.
Myanmar might finally be held accountable, but defending the Rohingya from genocide shouldn’t just be left to the global Islamic community. They need to be joined by countries with an interest in reducing the sexual and gender based violence at the core of the Tatmadaw’s genocidal campaign.
Otherwise, these important issues may not be sufficiently included in the case due to regional religious politics.
Sexual and gender violence
Last year, a Human Rights Council Fact-Finding Mission report detailed serious breaches of international humanitarian and human rights law by members of the Tatmadaw, including killing, rape, torture, arson and forced displacement.
The report also detailed how the Myanmar government, as a whole, was responsible for perpetrating these crimes, and should be held to account.
In an additional report released in August this year, the fact-finding mission found sexual and gender based violence was:
part of a deliberate, well-planned strategy to intimidate, terrorise
and punish a civilian population.
The sheer volume of pregnant women in the refugee camps was one early indicator of the extent to which sexual violence was used against women and girls. But the mission also found it was used against men, boys and trans people.
In their view, acts of sexual and gender based violence were committed as genocide.
In general, the UN Security Council has recognised the use of sexual violence as genocide, but they haven’t tied it to the crisis in Myanmar.
The council has passed nine resolutions on women, peace and security. Among other things, these resolutions call for the protection of women and girls, men and boys from conflict-related sexual violence, and urge countries to end to impunity for these crimes.
So, it is of the utmost importance that the sexual- and gender-based violence used in the genocide is accounted for in any International Court of Justice (ICJ) case.
How can the ICJ help?
The ICJ adjudicates between states, not individuals. Although individuals commit genocidal acts, under the Genocide Convention of 1948, states also have responsibility for preventing and punishing the crime of genocide.
Myanmar signed the UN’s Genocide Convention in 1957, which contains an article giving the ICJ jurisdiction if another state thinks they’ve breached their obligations.
This means once the case comes before the court, it can make rulings within a matter of days that would be binding on the government of Myanmar, the Security Council, or both. What’s more, it can begin almost immediately and can have immediate effect inside Myanmar.
This could make a big difference for Rohingya still inside Myanmar who are experiencing the ongoing genocide.
An ICJ case could also serve as a way to recognise and remedy the collective harm of the sexual- and gender-based violence, not just the harm experienced by individuals.
The Gambia has called on other countries to join it in taking a case against Myanmar to the ICJ. Canadian civil society and parliamentarians have been working to convince their government to bring such a case for more than a year. Importantly, a case from Canada against Myanmar would include sexual- and gender-based violence.
And there are a range of reasons why Canada would step forward in support of The Gambia’s case. Taking such action would align with Canada’s foreign policy objectives, such as those on human rights and women, peace and security.
Canada is also campaigning for a seat on the UN Security Council, but they have stiff competition from Ireland and Norway.
Taking Myanmar to the ICJ would show Canada is a strong international actor, able to work for the good of global peace and security, navigating the full set of challenges posed by the permanent members of the Security Council.
But other countries can – and should – support The Gambia’s case and ensure the inclusion of sexual and gender-based violence in a range of ways.
ICJ cases are usually long and costly. Interested countries could offer financial assistance for The Gambia’s case. They can also join the case as co-applicants in support of The Gambia’s leadership.
Lastly, once the case is lodged, the court allows other countries to intervene. Countries unwilling to come forward as co-applicants could ensure gendered and sexual violence issues are included by making just such an intervention.
At the Security Council later this month, UN Member States will have the opportunity to participate in the annual open debate on women, peace and security.
By then, someone must surely be able to stand up and say:
we stand with The Gambia, we will take the government of Myanmar to the International Court of Justice, to hold them to account for the sexual and gender based violence they perpetrated as genocide against the Rohingya.
St George Illawarra and NSW State of Origin player Jack de Belin has become the first player to be banned under a new “no fault stand down” policy introduced by the National Rugby League (NRL).
This policy allows the NRL to stand down players facing criminal charges that carry a jail term of 11 years or more, pending the outcome. Players will remain on full pay and will be allowed to continue to train with their teams until the matter is resolved.
In December 2018, the NRL was urged to take “urgent action” after a spate of allegations of domestic violence and assault by players. The sport’s governing body was accused of failing to adequately condemn these acts of violence against women.
Could it be that finally rugby league is listening to the criticism?
Just a few weeks ago, Ben Barba was sacked by his NRL club following allegations he physically assaulted his partner and mother of his four children. After a history of off-field incidents, he was deregistered by the NRL. Despite one former player speaking out in support of Barba, he has been widely condemned by the NRL community.
Violence on the field too often translates to violence off the field. Barba’s sacking should herald a culture shift in the NRL away from versions of masculinity that are exclusive and threatening to women. The sport must move towards a culture that is better aligned with the values of society.
Rugby League – a bastion of masculinity
For many years, rugby league has provided an outlet for violence that allows masculinity to be performed.
Throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s, league epitomised orthodox masculine characteristics such as aggressive competition and toughness. Fighting, confrontation and belligerence has been revered in media coverage and by the wider public. For example, The Footy Show valorised versions of masculinity that portrayed men as hyper-heterosexual, stoic and aggressive. The hosts repeatedly demonstrated disrespect for women.
But in recent years, social customs, gender relations and the expectations of even hyper-masculine warrior athletes began to change. The Footy Show has been cancelled; and evidence from America’s most similar sport, American football (NFL), suggests that since 2006, there has been a slight decrease in players arrested for domestic violence.
Barba’s sacking appears to provide evidence of an emerging social contract with masculinity. No longer is men’s violence acceptable to the public. Rugby League — finally now — is taking action.
While player welfare is important, so is the welfare of women. The “boys will be boys” excuse no longer stands. NRL endorsed campaigns, such as Power For Change, an initiative described as “empowering young people to be leaders of change against domestic violence”, appeared hypocritical in the face of five sexual assault charges in the most recent off-season. On the sixth, the NRL took action.
It appeared the Australian sporting community had had enough. NRL fans, particularly, were fed up with misbehaving players and seeking significant change. Sanctioning players with bans and fines has proven ineffective.
In addition to introducing their “no fault stand down policy”, NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg has called on other codes to honour the NRL-imposed ban. The Northern Hemisphere Super League has closed the door on Barba and Rugby Australia boss, Raelene Castle, said they would also respect the NRL’s wishes.
The NRL is today at a crossroads.
There has been a highly visible, and extensively documented phenomenon that millennial men reject orthodox notions of masculinity. They instead value intimacy among friends, tactility, respect for women, and disregard for violence. Much of the reason for this is considered to be related to changing mores surrounding male homosexuality. When this changes, so does everything about masculinity.
The sociological work on this suggests that when heterosexual men exist in a culture that maintains high antipathy toward gay men (as existed in the 1980s), they will try to distance themselves from anything associated with gay men. Thus, men revere violence and stoicism, and hyper-sexualise women. They are thought weak for showing emotions concerning care for other men, or fear of confrontation.
However, as cultural attitudes have shifted, making homophobia and not homosexuality stigmatised, heterosexual men have more social freedom to express gender in ways that were once taboo. So it becomes permissible to talk your way through a problem with another male instead of fighting.
Scholars call this inclusive masculinity, but more colloquially it might be understood as a highly revered, feminised masculinity. In the last few decades, we have seen wholesale shifts to adolescent masculinities, something epitomised by the burgeoning of the “bromance”.
The bromance is blossoming, says study
The NRL has divided fans with its recent rule change. Although the rule change sends a strong message to players and clubs that violence will not be tolerated within the code, until the wider culture of Rugby League begins embracing alternative forms of masculinity, the cause of the problem will still remain.
Jessica Richards, Lecturer Sport Business Management, Western Sydney University; Eric Anderson, Professor of Masculinities, Sexualities and Sport, University of Winchester, and Keith D. Parry, Senior Lecturer in Sport Management, University of Winchester
When 17 people were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, it was just the latest in a tragic list of mass shootings, many of them at schools.
Then something different happened: Teens began to speak out. The Stoneman Douglas students held a press conference appealing for gun control. Teens in Washington, D.C., organized a protest in front of the White House, with 17 lying on the ground to symbolize the lives lost. More protests organized by teens are planned for the coming months.
Teens weren’t marching in the streets calling for gun control after the Columbine High School massacre in 1999. So why are today’s teens and young adults – whom I’ve dubbed “iGen” in my recent book on this generation – speaking out and taking action?
With mass shootings piling up one after another, this is a unique historical moment. But research shows that iGen is also a unique generation – one that may be especially sensitive to gun violence.
Keep me safe
People usually don’t think of teenagers as risk-averse. But for iGen, it’s been a central tenant of their upbringing and outlook.
During their childhoods, they experienced the rise of the helicopter parent, anti-bullying campaigns and, in some cases, being forced to ride in car seats until age 12.
Their behavior has followed suit. For my book, I conducted analyses of large, multi-decade surveys. I found that today’s teens are less likely to get into physical fights and less likely to get into car accidents than teens just 10 years ago. They’re less likely to say they like doing dangerous things and aren’t as interested in taking risks. Meanwhile, since 2000, rates of teen binge drinking have fallen by half.
With the culture so focused on keeping children safe, many teens seem incredulous that extreme forms of violence against kids can still happen – and yet so many adults are unwilling to address the issue.
“We call on our national and state legislatures to finally act responsibly and reduce the number of these tragic incidents,” said Eleanor Nuechterlein and Whitney Bowen, the teen organizers of the D.C. lie-in. “It’s essential that we all feel safe in our classrooms.”
Treated with kid gloves
In a recent analysis of survey data from 8 million teens since the 1970s, I also found that today’s teens tend to delay a number of “adult” milestones. They’re less likely than their predecessors to have a driver’s license, go out without their parents, date, have sex, and drink alcohol by age 18.
This could mean that, compared to previous generations, they’re more likely to think of themselves as children well into their teen years.
As 17-year-old Stoneman Douglas High School student David Hogg put it, “We’re children. You guys are the adults. You need to take some action.”
Furthermore, as this generation has matured, they’ve witnessed stricter age regulations for young people on everything from buying cigarettes (with the age minimum raised to 21 in several states) to driving (with graduated driving laws).
Politicians and parents have been eager to regulate what young people can and can’t do. And that’s one reason some of the survivors find it difficult to understand why gun purchases aren’t as regulated.
“If people can’t purchase marijuana or alcohol at the age of 18, why should they be given access to guns?” asked Stoneman Douglas High School junior Lyliah Skinner.
She has a point: The shooter, Nikolas Cruz, is 19. Under Florida’s laws, he could legally possess a firearm at age 18. But – because he’s under 21 – he couldn’t buy alcohol.
Libertarianism – with limits
At the same time, iGen teens – like their millennial predecessors – are highly individualistic. They believe the rights of the individual should trump traditional social rules. For example, I found that they’re more supportive of same-sex marriage and legalized marijuana than previous generations were at the same age.
Their political beliefs tend to lean toward libertarianism, a philosophy that favors individual rights over government regulations, including gun regulation. Sure enough, support for protecting gun rights increased among millennials and iGen between 2007 and 2016.
But even a libertarian ideologue would never argue that individual freedom extends to killing others. So perhaps today’s teens are realizing that one person’s loosely regulated gun rights can lead to another person’s death – or the death of 17 of their teachers and classmates.
The teens’ demands could be seen as walking this line: They’re not asking for wholesale prohibitions on all guns. Instead, they’re hoping for reforms supported by most Americans such as restricting the sale of assault weapons and more stringent background checks.
In the wake of the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, the teens’ approach to activism – peaceful protest, a focus on safety and calls for incremental gun regulation – are fitting for this generation.
Perhaps iGen will lead the way to change.
Kem Sokha, the leader of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), was charged with treason last week, amid allegations of conspiring with a foreign power to overthrow the government.
In all likelihood, the charges mean the imminent dissolution of the main opposition party, leaving the ruling party – the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) – the only real contender in next year’s general elections.
The charges are the latest in the rolling back of democratic processes in the nation. They also reflect a shift in global democracy.
The latest development follows a pattern that has included alleged electoral intimidation in the recent commune elections, media suppression, and increasing threats of violence and conflict should the opposition win.
In the last three weeks, 17 radio providers that gave airtime to the opposition and aired programs produced by the Voice of America and Radio Free Asia – two Washington-based outlets that often include political critique – have had their licences revoked.
Last Monday, The Cambodia Daily, an English-language newspaper renowned for hard-hitting journalism, closed after 24 years, after being hit with an unaudited tax bill of US$6.3 million, with no course of appeal.
In August, the National Democratic Institute’s office in Cambodia was forced to close, and its foreign staff were deported, following alleged infringement of the Law on Associations and Non-governmental Organisations (LANGO). This law was passed earlier this year, severely restricting the rights of civil society actors across the nation.
These actions are largely agreed to be manoeuvres to consolidate the political power of the CPP under the increasingly autocratic rule of Prime Minister Hun Sen, who, following Sokha’s arrest, has declared he will rule for another ten years.
The violence of Hun Sen
My research shows that Cambodian politics has always been a sphere of violence, but that since the 1993 UN-backed elections, it has happened under a veneer of liberal democracy.
According to Human Rights Watch, Hun Sen has the worst human rights record of any “democratic” leader.
Although his party lost the 1993 elections, he forced a coalition, before seizing power after violent clashes in 1997. Elections since then have been plagued by accusations of fraud, corruption and voter intimidation. Hun Sen’s personal bodyguard is implicated in much public violence, including brutal beatings of political opponents.
But these current moves are happening in increasingly public spaces. Their intensification appears to be aimed at preventing a replay of the shock results of the 2013 general elections, when the ruling party lost 22 seats to the CNRP, giving the ruling party its lowest share of seats since 1998.
2013: the beginning of the end
I was in Cambodia for the 2013 elections doing research for my PhD on the legacy of the Khmer Rouge regime. My work involved examining contemporary Cambodian politics.
The success of the opposition took many of us by surprise. Despite the allegations of fraud and corruption, the result seemed promising for its indication of free voting – there was hope that it marked a positive move for democracy. But among threats of civil conflict and unrest, the result also provoked tension.
Protests occurred in the capital, and several people were shot. Rumours started to circulate that Hun Sen had mobilised the army and that the deputy prime minister, Sok An, was planning a coup. Fear and tension bubbled below the surface for many of the people I was working with.
Hun Sen has repeatedly threatened civil war should he lose the elections. His threats are grounded in the all-too-well-remembered violent history of the Khmer Rouge, when up to 1.7 million people were killed.
To ensure the lives of millions of people, we are willing to eliminate 100 or 200 people.
Some in Cambodia fear he will be true to his word. It seems unlikely that Hun Sen will let the 2018 election result get as close as it did in 2013. After all, he has never shunned the threat of violence as a means of control.
Hun Sen also has the support of Tep Vong, supreme patriarch of the Cambodian Buddhist sect of Mohanikay. He has previously condoned controlling the freedom of the people, thereby ensuring spiritual legitimacy as well as political impunity for Hun Sen’s actions.
Global shifts in despotism, crumbling democracies
The moves towards media control and suppression of the opposition parallel turns across the globe. They reflect the rolling back of democracy and a rise of autocratic leaders in so-called democratic countries.
In April this year, a referendum in Turkey voted for constitutional reforms that give President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan single-handed rule with the right to pass new laws and dissolve parliament at will.
This legislation followed the failed coup in 2016. In the subsequent crackdown thousands of journalists, academics and lawmakers were jailed, and at least 156 media outlets forced to close. Turkey now has more journalists in prison than any other nation.
Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has admitted murder, threatened killings of drug dealers (and likened himself to Hitler in the process) and said he would pass political impunity laws to protect himself. More than 7,000 people have reportedly been killed in the last year.
In Poland, the ruling party passed legislation restricting the freedom of the press and giving itself increasing control of the courts. Only the prime minister’s signature is needed for action.
According to US think tank Freedom House, 2016 was:
… characterised by an erosion of democratic institutions and a rise of autocratic practices across the globe.
Political violence, open suppression
Violence in politics is not new. The control of the people in Cambodia is not new. What is new is the increasing confidence of leaders, such as Hun Sen, to flex their political muscles openly and violently with complete confidence in their political impunity.
Cambodia is often heralded as a nation with an exciting future due to high levels of investment and development support. But the success of its peace and democracy is openly crumbling.
The CPP needs a powerful opposition to prevent complete disintegration of democracy and human rights. It’s making sure that is not possible.